Tag Archives: Democracy

Donald Trump, Westworld, & the Future of American Democracy

Is the 2016 presidential election the beginning, or the end, of American civic life?

I say it’s both.

Pessimistically, one can say we are witnessing the end of civility, honesty, and empathy, and the beginning of the end of our two-centuries-long experiment in a quasi-functional representative democracy. Yet I believe what this election must provide, no matter who wins on Tuesday, is a wakeup call from our collective somnambulism, and a call to confront the Brave New World we have already begun to enter – a world in which we can disappear into virtual realities of our own imagining, and therefore one in which our ability to be more conscious (of ourselves, our surroundings, and the invisible systems that hold us prisoner) must become the lingua franca of a renewed civic order.

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Categories: Democracy, Leadership, News of the Weird, Organizational Change

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The Beautiful Struggle

I’ve yet to meet a grown-up who, at some point, hasn’t felt a bit like a hamster in the wheel – spinning mindlessly towards some opaque goal, and for some abstract, poorly understood reason.

Life can feel that way sometimes.

So you can imagine my surprise when, while visiting a small public high school in the Excelsior neighborhood of San Francisco, I encountered a group of boys working on an indeterminate project out of plywood and a handsaw.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked.

“We’re building a human-sized hamster wheel,” they replied.

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Categories: Assessment, Democracy, Equity, Leadership, Learning, Teacher Quality, Voice

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Has Oprah come to embody what’s wrong with modern American culture?

I’ve decided that if I were to pick one person who embodies the ersatz character of contemporary American cultural life, that person would be Oprah Winfrey.

Let me explain.

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The Neuroscience of Democracy

In the ideal educational future, is there a single design principle that matters most in establishing the optimal learning environment for children? That seems like a pretty important question to consider. And if you were to go by today’s leading reform strategies, you might conclude that the answer is, variably, greater accountability, better use of […]

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Categories: Democracy, Learning

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In New York, A Tale of Two Cities (and Two Selves)

At the New Teacher Center conference a few years ago, I watched a master teacher model a great way to introduce students to new material. She projected a single image onto the screen in our conference room — it was Liberty Leading the People — and asked us a single question, over and over again: “What do you see?” Any observation (“I see a strong woman”) would prompt a second question from the instructor (“What’s your evidence?”). It was fun, and illuminating, and after ten minutes, based on nothing more than our own close observations, we were ready to study the French Revolution.

I was reminded of that workshop recently, when I saw someone on Twitter share the following picture:

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Categories: Democracy, Learning

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(Extra)Ordinary People

There’s an anecdote the Calhoun School’s Steve Nelson likes to share when he speaks to teachers and parents about the purpose of education. “We should think of our children as wildflower seeds in an unmarked package,” he says. “We can’t know what will emerge. All we can do is plant them in fertile soil, give them plenty of water and sunlight, and wait patiently to see the uniqueness of their beauty.”

At a time when too many students are still being planted in highly cultivated gardens – trimmed and pruned to resemble each other closely – it is incumbent upon all of us to stand on the side of the unmarked package. And at a time when we stray further and further from our democratic roots – from Chicago to DC – it is essential we heed the words of Mission Hill founder Deborah Meier, who reminds us that “democracy rests on having respect for the judgment of ordinary people.”

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Categories: Assessment, Learning, Organizational Change, Teacher Quality

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The Wisdom of Crowds, Untapped

The decision by DC Council Education Committee Chairman David Catania to hire an outside law firm to craft school reform legislation is an awful one, worthy of serious public rebuke – and for two interrelated reasons.

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Categories: Democracy, Leadership, Organizational Change

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A Part of Us is Dying in Chicago

I can’t reconcile the deep sense of community that filmmakers Amy and Tom Valens have captured in their 10-part video series about a year in the life of a public school in Boston, with the painful public clashes we’re witnessing in Chicago – where 54 of the city’s schools will soon be shuttered.

Indeed, although the nation’s attention is fixed on the historic fight for marriage equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, a part of us is dying in the Windy City – and no one in the mainstream media seems to care.

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Categories: Democracy, Learning, Organizational Change

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This is what a democratic organization looks like

Courtesy of this interview with Semco’s Ricardo Semler. If you don’t know the story of Semco, take a listen. And imagine if all organizations were similarly organized?

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Categories: Democracy, Learning, Organizational Change

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Should Schools be More or Less Democratic?

Like most parents of a young child, I’m trying to decide which environment will be the best for my son when he enters a public school for the first time next fall. At nearly every open house my wife and I attend, cheerful administrators and educators tout the advantage of being a “participatory” school, and of “giving children the opportunity to learn and work in groups.” Send your child here, they tell us, and he’ll acquire a core set of democratic skills – from working collaboratively to acting empathetically – that will help him successfully negotiate our increasingly interconnected global community.

Sounds great, I say – until I open my Sunday New York Times and read a cover story warning against the rise of a new type of groupthink. “Most of us now work in teams,” writes author Susan Cain, “in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in. But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”

Whom should we trust? Have we overvalued democratic skills like collaboration and shared decision-making to our own detriment? And, in the end, should our schools be more or less democratic?

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Categories: Democracy, Learning

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